Saturday, November 22, 2014

Robin Hood – A Short Guide

by Steven A. McKay

Like King Arthur, Robin Hood seems to hold a special place in the hearts of all sorts of people. There’s something very romantic about a downtrodden normal man rising up and thumbing his nose at society’s corrupt rulers. Hundreds of years after the first stories of Robin were told, we can still identify with the concept – some things just don’t change…

No one is quite sure when Hood might have lived, with most authors following Sir Walter Scott’s lead in Ivanhoe and placing him around 1194 and the time of King Richard, although the original tales mention King Edward which would push the time-frame back a century or so depending on which Edward they meant.

There’s also some question over the religious aspects of the character – was he an extension of a pagan figure like John Barleycorn, Cernunnos or Herne the Hunter? Or was he simply a devout Christian as the early ballads suggest? The people of the middle-ages were certainly Christian, as the Crusades so violently testify, but they also held to some of the “old ways” – could a real man have taken on some of these pagan aspects and become the mythical figure we know today?

The Green Man represents nature and the seasons – more specifically the cycle of life, death and the rebirth in spring. John Barleycorn is similar, although he stands for autumn and the barley crop which would be used to make beer. It's obvious this kind of archetype – of a symbolic figure that brings life (and beer!) to the common man while triumphing over the oppressive, killing cold of winter – fits nicely with the myth of Robin Hood. Indeed, in my own Wolf's Head Robin brings ale, food and money to the starving people of Wakefield, foiling the ever-present medieval spectre of an early death.

Of course, the bold outlaw has been portrayed countless times in TV shows and movies – the hugely popular “Prince of Thieves” and Richard Carpenter’s wonderful fantasy-tinged “Robin of Sherwood” probably being the pick of the bunch, but the popularity of the recent BBC series and the Russell Crowe movie proves again how audiences continue to connect with the legend.

In novel form Robin hasn’t fared quite as well as the ever-popular King Arthur, who was, of course, immortalized in fantastic books by Bernard Cornwell and Marion Zimmer Bradley among others. Angus Donald has taken a refreshingly new look at the character in his successful Outlaw Chronicles, making Hood something of a medieval gangster, although the books are still set around the 13th century. David Pilling, Prue Batten and Parke Godwin are others who have explored the legend although I haven't got around to reading them yet, simply because I don't want to be accused of stealing ideas!

For my own novel Wolf’s Head I chose to follow the very first, original ballads by placing the action in Yorkshire, rather than Nottingham, and in the early 14th century. All the old characters are still there though, with the much-maligned sheriff doing his best to bring the “merry men” to justice. The second in the series, The Wolf and the Raven also sees the introduction/return of Sir Guy of Gisbourne...

There are, of course, lots of other ideas and theories around Robin Hood. Was he really William Wallace? Was he a Templar knight as suggested by John Paul Davis in The Unknown Templar? Or the Earl of Huntingdon, rather than the yeoman of the early ballads? Did he really use a longbow or did that only come into use after Robin lived?

We’ll probably never know the answers to these questions, and that’s the great thing about Robin, Little John and Will Scarlet, just as it is with King Arthur and Merlin: we can allow our imaginations to fill in the blanks, knowing no one interpretation will ever be “right” or “wrong”. For me, there was a real man – or more likely men – that the Robin Hood legend was based on, over a period of decades. Hard men – probably violent criminals that weren't very heroic at all. But their exploits – stealing from the obscenely wealthy while evading the unpopular ruling class – brought cheer to the downtrodden peasants and commoners of the medieval period. The tales grew in the telling to include elements of heroism, paganism and romance until, eventually, Hood became a symbol for justice and, perhaps most importantly, hope.

But that's just how I see it. How do you picture the legendary wolf's head and his band of men? In the end, that's all that matters!


Steven A. McKay is the author of the Amazon "War" chart number 1's Wolf's Head and The Wolf and the Raven. The third in the series, Rise of the Wolf, is underway, while a spin-off novella, Knight of the Cross, has just been released.
To find out more go to StevenAMcKay, Amazon UK, or Amazon US

Friday, November 21, 2014

Jockies, Marshals and Knights

by Sue Millard

Horse power

If there is one facet of human endeavour that we cannot get away from as historians, it is people’s need to travel, and for many millennia their most rapid means of transport was the horse. 

Just as there were names for the types of horses and the jobs they were suited to, there were names for the people who used and worked with horses. Let’s have a look at some of them.

Smiths, Farriers and Marshals


The original sense of this word was apparently a craftsman, a skilled worker, not only in in metal but in wood or other material. Its origins lie in Common Germanic and Old English. In the Lindisfarne Gospel c 950AD, Matthew xiii. 55 has a gloss (translation between the lines) of Ah ne ðis is smiðes vel wyrihta sunu? (Is not this the carpenter’s or wright's son?)

By ~1300 the term "smith" had moved towards metalwork, eg in the Cursor MundiAls it war dintes on a steþi Þat smythes smittes in a smeþey. (As it were strokes on an anvil, that smiths smite in a smithy.) Although the alliteration is there for the sake of the poetry, it also gives us the clue that a smith is one who smites, who uses a hammer.

Smiths could also specialise in their own particular metals. Goldsmiths and silversmiths were recorded in around 1000AD and coppersmiths in the early 1300s, but tinsmiths (whitesmiths) not until the 19th century.

Black-smiths were workers of iron, and their trade included the making and mending of agricultural equipment, tools, and weapons. The 1248 Close Rolls of Henry III mention “Master Henry the Blacksmith”. They did not exclusively shoe horses, though no doubt every village blacksmith would provide this service simply because all local work and all passing trade was either on foot or on horseback.


A farrier, on the other hand, was entirely geared towards the care of horses and their shoeing. The old Latin term ferrārius was taken into Old French where it became ferrier, from the Latin for ferrum, iron.  In medieval Latin ferrum (often ferrus) meant a horseshoe. The Oxford English Dictionary surprised me here because I had thought the term might have been imported to England during the Norman period, but their first record of it is in 1562 in an Act of Queen Elizabeth I, where the farrier is defined alongside the blacksmith, as working in a parallel trade. 

The farrier was also the horse doctor: F. Markham, 1622: Five Decades Epist. of Warre  v. ii. §6An excellent Smith or Farryer who shall euer be furnished with Horse~shooes, nayles, and drugges, both for inward and outward applycations.


In fact, the Anglo-Norman word for a shoeing smith was not farrier but marshal, from marescal. It is much older than farrier, and in fact in 1086 it was recorded in the Domesday Book as a surname. At first it meant simply a person responsible for the upkeep of horses, especially their feet – the company’s mechanic, if you like – but by degrees, from its responsibility, it acquired other meanings, such as a high officer within a royal household. By 1213 it had become the term for a commander of cavalry in an army, and it has retained its military sense up to the present day.

Pages, Squires and Knights


In Anglo-Norman and Old French a page was a young male servant (c1225), a boy or  a youth generally of noble birth, who was attached to the service of a person of high rank (second half of the 14th cent.) His duties were domestic rather than warlike.


A squire was a young man of good birth attendant upon a knight, helping him to dress and put on armour. When they travelled or went to war, he led his master’s war horse, himself riding a rouncy (cob) and leading the destrier on his right while the knight rode a more comfortable and less aggressive palfrey.  Beket, in
The South English Legendary, c1300–1325 wrote:  For-to honouri þis holi man þer cam folk i-novȝ;..Of Eorles and of barones and manie kniȝtes… and of squiers. (People came to honour this holy man – earls and barons and many knights and squires.)

The spellings of this word can be very inventive, anything from skuyeris to swyers!


The Old English / Middle English cniht has links with the continental word knecht which has connotations of “young man” or “lad” – a servant, or someone active and fit to be a soldier. 1086,   Þænne wæron mid him ealle þa rice men..abbodas & eorlas, þegnas & cnihtas. (Then were with him all the rich men, abbots and earls, thegns and knights.)  

Knight – like the modern southern English colloquial use of “squire” – could also be extended to address a man, especially a male servant, of any age. This familiar usage existed alongside the better-known medieval feudal meaning, of a military man who served a king. A knight had gone through degrees of service, being first a page and then a squire, until he “won his spurs” as an acknowledged man of rank. The link with horses here is simply that the knight, being a military officer, needed fighting transport, and he relied on his squire to look after it.


Compared to all these ancient words, jockey, the quintessential horse term for a race-rider, is relatively modern, being recorded first in the early 16th C as iocky and in Shakespeare’s Richard III as iockey. 

I have seen assertions that it refers to 'Eachaidhe' in Gaelic, the word meaning “horsemen”, and pronounced yachey. However, there were much older Gaelic terms meaning horse – capall, rois (hros) and marc. And it seems unlikely that the language of an underclass (Irish or Scottish Gaels) would influence the language of an aristocracy who could afford to buy and keep horses solely for racing.

“Jocky” or “jockey” is more likely to be (as the OED states) John or Jack or Jacky: lowly people, serving boys; a term for  the “boy”, “the johnnie” or “the lad” who looks after the stable and other menial tasks, who is light and agile enough to be given the ride on the racehorses. We still hear an echo of this meaning in upper middle class phrases for a workman or employee, like “that window-cleaner johnnie”. It’s much like “a lad” in racing parlance, who is anyone who looks after racehorses – young or old, male or female, they are “lads” and only occasionally “lasses”!

The references in this article are culled from the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary.


Sue Millard, in her pursuit of all things historical and equine, manages the Fell Pony and Countryside Museums web site,  Her book web site is Jackdaw E Books 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cutting Through a Medieval Notion or Two

by Scott Howard

To those with  a jaded view of history, the Middle Ages was a dark period, seething with swarms of brutish thugs, toothless peasants resembling a human shaped piece of mud, and nobles living lavishly while villages burned.  Books and movies have overplayed this notion, thus depriving the world of the learning and reforms that sprang forth from this period.  Looking at something as simple as a sword can uncover our eyes and show us new worlds that we may have overlooked - worlds we didn't like, because we didn't understand them.   

Indeed, history has chronicled baseless acts and the ruling class thumbed their nose, or wrinkled it in distaste, at those beneath them, but the fact that, we, as modern people, could trace our past to the "lower classes" should say something about their character, their skills, and determination to pass on whatever legacy they possessed to the next generation.

Modern metallurgy has come a long way.  The medieval blacksmith was a part time brute hired by the local baron to produce arms and armor and completely void of skill, right?  The swords and arms they produced were lucky to survive a melee or a season of campaigns.  They were simpletons who could only dream of producing a sword with triple fullers, tapered blade, leather wrapped grip, fishtail pommel, and a crossguard that resembles a ribbon.  The physical balance of the sword that only modern science could produce mustn't be overlooked.

KHM Wien A 141 - Ceremonial sword of the Rector of the Republic of Ragusa, 1466
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

These notions beg a few questions, though.  Are museum pieces such as the Ceremonial sword of the Rector of the Republic of Ragusa, (1468) mere flukes that they lasted for so long?  Or were medieval blacksmiths expert craftsmen whose reputations went alongside a lord and his retainers during the campaign season?  Were they more modern than thought?

Judging by the sheer volume of swords used during the Crusades and sundry great battles of the Middle Ages appearing in photos of personal and museum collections, the evidence clearly points to the latter.  It is astounding to see how closely modern replicas mirror their medieval predecessors and how well preserved the small details are - visible fullers, etchings and designs on the blades, the intricacies of the pommels, the variety of crossguard shapes and sizes, and even remnants of leather grips.

Space does not allow for the breadth of information on forging blades, the grinding process, and how, even in the mire of what we call the Middle Ages, there were skilled artisans and specialists that knew what would stand the test of time.  An intimate knowledge of the crystalline structure of steel was unknown, but centuries of craft passed through the generations more than made up for that lack.  

Moreover, there were strong guilds that ensured a level of quality concerning any product a blacksmith would produce.  In addition to arms and armaments, they repaired or made tools, farm implements, and sundry other products that were not a mere cobbling together of steel and luck.  If that were the case you would never be able to balance a close replica of a typical medieval sword in one hand for any length of time, nor would you be able to twirl it, toss it, or survive for a day in the life of a medieval knight.  

For more information and ingenious ways of forging and grinding quality sword steel, follow the link here.  To experience a daily dose of medieval and replica pieces, whose existence points to something other than preconceived notions of knowledge and skill, follow the link here.

~ Scott Howard Higginbotham
A Soul’s Ransom

Scott Higginbotham writes under the name Scott Howard and is the author of A Soul’s Ransom, a novel set in the fourteenth century where William de Courtenay’s mettle is tested, weighed, and refined, and For a Thousand Generations where Edward Leaver navigates a world where his purpose is defined with an eye to the future.  His new release, A Matter of Honor, is a direct sequel to For a Thousand Generations.  It is within Edward Leaver's well-worn boots that Scott travels the muddy tracks of medieval England.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

After the Castle Fell: The Second Life of Marie Flemying: 1573-1598

by Linda Root

Marie Flemying, from a drawing by the  author

I did not set out to stumble upon a grand love affair
when I began to write The First Marie and the Queen of Scots.  I selected Marie Flemying as my protagonist because she was Marie Stuart’s cousin and was the chief of the queen’s celebrated Four Maries, the little girls who accompanied the queen to France in 1548.

Because of their shared heritage and life experiences, I felt there was potential in a book written from her point of view.  I knew nothing about the petite little blond when I began. But Marie Flemyng was a usurper. Almost by accident, the First Marie became more her story than the queen’s.  But this post is not about the great romance between the queen’s flamboyant cousin or the man Elizabeth called "the flower of the wit of Scotland." It concerns what happened when he died.

But first, the love story...

William Maitland of Lethington was Marie Stuart’s foreign secretary and a frequent visitor to the Tudor Court.  He had similarly served her mother Marie de Guise when she was the Scottish Regent. The Regent had sent him to France to conclude negotiations of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis in which Scotland was a minor player.  Almost half of the original group of Scottish representatives to Marie Stuart’s wedding to the Dauphin, Francois, including Marie Flemyng’s older brother Lord Flemyng, Chancellor of Scotland died  on the eve of their return to Scotland the year before.  Maitland and Lord Fleming were part of the same group of religious moderates who often dined together. Also, the family of the Earl of Casillas who also died had secretly retained Maitland to investigate the deaths while he was in France. Maitland almost certainly met Marie Flemying during his visit.

From The First Marie, character sketches by Linda Root

When the Queen of Scots, consort of the frail French King Francois II, found herself a widow two years later, her Four Maries including Marie Flemying accompanied her to the homeland they had not seen in thirteen years.  By 1564, recent widower Maitland and the much younger chief of The Four Maries were already an item. The Scottish knight Calvinist Sir William Kirkcaldy remarked to one of his English friends Maitland was as likely a suitor for Marie Flemying as Kirkcaldy was to be Pope. Their May-September romance was put on hold due to Maitland’s opposition to the Darnley marriage and the queen’s suspicions he had been involved in the murder of her Italian favorite, her correspondence secretary David Rizzio, but by early fall of 1566, Maitland and the Queen had reconciled.

The month after the christening of Prince Charles James Stuart, best known to history as James VI and I, Maitland and the pretty blonde granddaughter of James IV were married on January 5, 1567 at Stirling as a part of the Twelfth Night celebrations. Their honeymoon was short.

The following month the Queen’s husband Darnley was murdered, and the Queen was suspected of having had a part in it.  Almost certainly Maitland had been involved.  But when the Queen fell under the thrall of Maitland’s personal enemy, Scotland’s notorious bad boy James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, the halcyon days abruptly ended.

By the following summer, Maitland was in league with the rebels who marched against the Queen.  What strain his defection put on his marriage is a matter of speculation.  In any event, the middle-aged bridegroom fought under the banner of the newly crowned infant King James VI at Langside on the eve of Marie Stuart’s ill-conceived flight to England, and he went to York as a part of the Scottish contingent appearing at the tribunal Elizabeth Tudor convened to determine the equities surrounding her cousin's forced abdication while imprisoned at Loch Leven during 1567-68. By the time the tribunal met, Maitland was acting as a double agent, informing the incarcerated Queen’s counsel of the evidence against her and secretly meeting with the Duke of Norfolk in hopes of negotiating a marriage that would result in Marie Stuart's  restoration to the Scottish throne with Norfolk as her consort.

At the time of Maitland’s trip to England, he was already showing signs of a debilitating degenerative disease that soon left him crippled. During his absence, his wife gave birth to their second child.

Soon after his return, Maitland of Lethington  joined a cabal of increasingly powerful aristocratic Scots who regretted their betrayal of the Queen of Scots, and by the end of the decade he had joined Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange in open protest of her treatment.  During the ensuing Douglas Wars, he and his lady  joined the Castilian faction which championed the cause of the Queen of Scots and held Edinburgh Castle in her name.  Then in 1573, the Regent James Douglas, Earl of Morton, talked Elizabeth Tudor into sending her siege guns to Scotland to level it.

Wikimedia Commons, ((PD-Art))

In early summer the castle fell to an English army. While Maitland was still in English custody pending his release to the bloodthirsty Scottish Regent James Douglas, Earl of Morton, the great Maitland died in the prison infirmary at the Tollbooth in Leith, many said in the manner of Socrates. Rumor mongers including his brother John Maitland, Prior of Coldingham (later, Lord Thirlstane) hinted that poison had been administered by his wife.

In The First Marie the poison vial 
was sent to Lady Lethington by 
Elizabeth  to spare her friend 
Maitland a traitor's death.
Some historical references suggest the Lethington marriage was an unhappy one, but I have not found a single piece of credible evidence to support it. The last widely reported reference to Marie Flemying in the popular histories presents a contrary view. In a letter she wrote to Elizabeth’s Minister William Cecil to protest Morton’s plan to try Maitland’s corpse for treason, she makes an impassioned plea for the release of his remains, which had been left under guard  and infested by vermin, rotting at their house in the Meal Market.  Elizabeth sided with the widow and in no uncertain terms informed Morton that her old friend died while unconvicted of any crime, and besides, in England, they reserved hanging and dismemberment for the living.

In the same timeframe, Lady Lethington wrote to her sister-in-law Isabel complaining of Coldingham’s slanders and neglect of her and her children. If one were to succumb to casual historical research, Marie Flemyng’s story would end with the second letter, for at this point she disappears from popular histories. Some go so far as to declare she never remarried and raised her children in relative poverty.

The Second Life of the First Marie (1573 – circa 1599)

Marie Flemying’s appearances in the historical records of the Scottish courts do not end with Maitland’s death. What followed thereafter may have lacked the luster and romance of her love affair with Maitland, but her story does not end for approximately another twenty-five years. Although her date of death is uncertain, she  out-lived her mortal enemy Morton who was executed in 1583 by close to fifteen years and her brother-in-law John Maitland, Lord Thirlestane, for three.

Morton's execution by the device known as the
Maiden, a precursor of the guillotine. 
There is no mention of the fate of the First Marie until ten years after Maitland’s death when the imprisoned Queen of Scots requested her ambassador in France to seek passports from Elizabeth allowing Lady Lethington and one of the Setons to travel to England for a visit which the Queen of Scots thought might be beneficial to her declining health.

There is no record that the passports were issued, and if so, whether either of them came. Records of the Queen’s expenditures suggest they did not. If Marie Flemying made the trip, she did not stay long. There is a compelling explanation as to why. She was about to remarry.

A fictional last visit between Marie Suart
and her cousin Marie Flemyng
By 1584, Marie Flemyng was Lady Fyvie, the wife of George Meldrum whose family owned one of the most impressive castles in Aberdeenshire. Unfortunately what at first blush seems to be a reversal of her fall from grace did not long endure.  Notations in the public records always treated  her with respect, but her bridegroom was not so fortunate.

There is no reason the Meldrum marriage should be so frequently overlooked by popular historians. Both parties were well known.  Secretary Maitland’s widow was a legendary beauty, and for many Scots the Queen of Scots and her Four Maries had become  the personifications of happier times. The Meldrums were important Aberdeenshire aristocrats with strong ties to the English aristocracy, although the politics of the Sixteenth Century had not always treated them kindly.

Marie Flemyng and her new suitor shared one thing in common—both of their ancestors had spent time at the Tudor Court during the reign of Henry VIII.  The earlier George Meldrum was present at Henry Tudor’s Death Watch. In the political  climate of 1584 when the independent and maturing King James VI was beginning to look south to his future, his cousin Marie Flemyng should have been a welcome visitor at the Stuart Court, although there is no mention of her.  The reason was likely financial. She may not have had the money to maintain a proper court appearance.  It was not Marie Flemying who brought her family to the brink of bankruptcy. It was her aristocratic new husband George.

The allegedly haunted Castle Fyvie (Wikimedia Commons)

Researching the relationship between Marie Fleming and George Meldrum awakens caution in anyone using genealogical sites for historical references.  Some of them show Meldrum as Marie Fleming’s first husband, an inexcusable error considering the high visibility of her life in France and the rumors surrounding her romance with Maitland. It vexes that so many novices are presenting charts and family trees of famous people from the past without a modicum of independent research or employment of their common sense.  The George Meldrum mentioned in these sites as having married Marie Flemying was at Henry Tudor’s deathbed when Marie was on a ship to France with her cousin when the two girls were barely six. The George Meldrum she married was his grandson.

While there is some confusion as to whether the George in our story inherited the title from his father or an older brother; apparently one of the intervening barons of Fyvie suffered from mental illness that required expensive care. He  also made some financially disastrous moves before his  potential heirs realized he was going mad. Marie Flemyng’s new bridegroom acquired the title and estates in a much beleaguered state and seemingly lacked the financial acumen to remedy the decline.

It is primarily through civil actions brought by her  husband's creditors to collect debts incurred by his predecessor that we trace the later years of Marie Fleming. One has to dig deeply to find anything further about the Meldrums after George was forced to transfer the title of his barony to one of his kinsman who within months sold it to the Setons.

By the end of 1596, Alexander Seton was in possession of Fyvie Castle and soon thereafter title to the barony was conferred upon him by his friend the King. At the time, Marie Flemying was apparently ill and likely close to death. At about the same time as Seton acquired Fyvie, his friend John Maitland, now Lord Thirlestane,  snared  title to the barony of Lethington from Marie Flemyngs son, James Maitland, on terms Marie Flemying described as "on the cheap." She was not the only one to protest. There is evidence  many Scots were outraged byThirlestane's overreaching. Thus, at the sunset of the 16th century, both Marie Flemyng’s son and her husband had lost their titles to greedy associates to whom they went for help.

None of this is particularly dynamic  when compared to the spectacle of the Queen’s petite cousin’s early life. She is best remembered as she appeared at Holyrood as Queen of the Beane in 1563 when she was compared to the Goddesses Venus, Juno and Minerva. However, the vagaries concerning her later history raises an important point.  Apparently historians of times past were at least as guilty as modern television script writers and producers in playing to an audience. On the world stage, Marian history was overlooked for decades. 

Thus, Marie Flemying died divested of her title and estates not because of anything her Machiavellian husband Maitland of Lethington did, but because she married into a dysfunctional debt-ridden family the second time around.  Nevertheless she outlived two of the other Four Maries, Livingston and Beaton, and survived her royal cousin by a decade.  She was the perfect subject for my novel.

A final word on the topic of historical accuracy in fiction:  Since I wrote The First Marie and the Queen of Scots in 2010-2011, nearly all of the sources I found in my Google searches for records of Marie Flemyng's life after Maitland died have vanished from the web. For example, there were at least four records of separate court proceedings in Aberdeen involving claims against the Fyvie holdings and the corresponding countersuits, as well as notations on official records of subpoenas and summonses issued to Hon. Marie Flemyng both before and after she became  Lady Fyvie. These are of special interest to me because she sought to have the last of them quashed due to failing health. Webpages dealing with the history of the Meldrums of Fyvie and the earlier George Meldum’s relationship with Henry VIII are also missing. My caveat to both historians and historical novelists is to look closely at those little bits of information which  pop out of Pandora’s jar, and if they seem at odds with common sense, try digging deeper and keep records of your discoveries.

I mention this with trepidation, because it appears the internet is being culled, or perhaps search engines have changed their criteria as to what should or should not be kept accessible. My own observations suggests a general dumbing down of what is presented as ‘scholarly’ while at the same time the cost of accessing a genuine research paper is rising when it should be the other way around.  I fear future researchers seeking to write a historically accurate book about the Queen of Scots will be encouraged to believe the names of the Four Maries were Greer, Kenna, Aylee and Lola, and that her Aunt Margaret murdered the King of Portugal, because these are the tidbits of misinformation most likely to survive because they get the greater number of clicks.

Cheers, and remember as the holidays approach, no one has too many books. ~ Linda Root


Linda Root is a writer of historical fiction and a former major crimes prosecutor who lives in the California high desert with her husband Chris and her two Alaskan malamutes. She also writes paranormal Scottish  fantasy under the name J.D. Root. The  First Marie and the Queen of Scots is her debut novel, published in May 2011 and in an edited second edition in 2013. Her  blog Linda Root-Indie Wrtier can be found at Books in  the Queen of Scots Suite and in the Legacy of the Queen of Scots series are on Amazon and Kindle at

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Enchantment of The Bayeux Tapestry

by Carol McGrath

The Bayeux Tapestry has retained its enchantment and its vivid colour almost a thousand years after it was embroidered. It tells the story of The Norman Conquest through beautifully framed vignettes and long-shot depictions made in embroidery from Harold Godwinson's departure on a mysterious mission to Normandy in 1064 until his death at Hastings in October 1066.  I have often wondered about the fabric and the natural dyes used for the embroidery wools in the Tapestry's construction.

Scene from The Bayeux Tapestry

Carola Hicks wrote in her wonderful book The Bayeux Tapestry, The Life Story of a Masterpiece, "Made from the workaday fabrics of linen and wool, the Tapestry has often been described as an uncharacteristically humble artifact when compared to other works of the period, even an example of quaint folk art."

It is true that the Tapestry is not sewn with valuable gold, silver, and gems, or silk embroidery threads. It is by Anglo-Saxon standards a modest work, and yet it is a glorious feat of craftsmanship and artistry. The Tapestry is constructed in the everyday fabrics of linen and wool. Even so, its fabrics were designed and executed as the result of practice by extremely talented craftsmen.

Woodland Scene from the Tapestry

Here in Tapestry the dramatic story of the Norman invasion of England is stitched out and embroidered on strips of linen. It is seventy meters in length and half a meter wide. The fact that these homely though durable fabrics, linen and wool, were used are the reason for its preservation despite its great age and fragility. Most of what we see today is original. Even where the Tapestry has been repaired we can still see the original stitch marks.


Linen and The Tapestry

Linen has a long history. The ancient Egyptians found linen's sweat-absorbent and cooling properties divine. They attributed the invention of linen to the goddess Isis. With the advent of Christianity linen was used for priestly garments. It actually had a high status. It comes from the flax plant which was sown after Easter and harvested three months later. In the Middle-Ages the young plants were pulled by hand and never cut. Cutting might damage the stems. Plant stalks were soaked till they were decomposing, dried out, then smashed with mallets to separate the outer bark from the inner fibres. These were spun into thread on a hand spindle. Medieval women spun constantly. They attached a bundle of flax fibres to the cone-shaped top of a pole , the distaff. Then the other end was tucked under the spinner's arm. A spinner drew the fibres out from the top, twisted them onto a weighted whorl, then spun them tightly into a thread.

Retting (cleaning) the flax

The Bayeux Tapestry consists of nine separate panels sewn together after they were embroidered. The two longest strips measure nearly 14 meters. This suggests a long warp or length setting. Other Tapestry sections are shorter. The original lengths were woven a meter wide and then cut to make strips that would be comfortable to embroider. A loom is used to weave the threads into lengths of fabric.  Carola Hicks thought that professional weavers made the linen on a horizontal treadle loom, a more advanced machine than an upright warp-weighted loom that was used to make woollen cloth.

Upright weaving frame

When the linen was woven it was a natural brown in colour. The linen was bleached by boiling it in a solution of water alkalized by the addition of wood ash, fern or seaweed. It was stretched out on frames for exposure to the light. It was still kept damp. After a period of three weeks or so the linen was soaked in a solution of sour milk fermented by rye or bran. The fabric was pounded with a piece of marble or glass to create a smooth silky texture.

Wool Embroidery on The Tapestry

It is considered by most Tapestry historians that there was a common cartoon source  for the Tapestry design. There is a similarity between the images, especially those of figures, emblems, plants, and animals, and those depicted on Canterbury manuscripts of the period. This suggests Canterbury as the location for the Tapestry's overall design. However, between three and eight workshops are suggested for the linen's weaving. There were probably several embroidery workshops involved as well. Likely contenders were Canterbury and Wilton.

Queen Edith, the widow of Edward the Confessor, was one of the most notable embroiderers of the era, and after her husband's death she retired to Wilton Abbey which had a school for embroiderers. She may have had a hand in the execution of the Bayeux Tapestry. It is recorded in The Vita Edwardi Regis, completed around 1066-69, a few years after Edward's death, that several people were with Edward just before his death.  There were Harold Godwin and Archbishop Stigund. Edith, one of three women depicted on the Tapestry, who warmed his feet in her lap can be seen kneeling at the bottom of his bed. According to the Vita, Edward gave a prophetic vision and then said a few words to comfort Edith. Interestingly, Edward's death scene as depicted in embroidery on the Tapestry corresponds to that described in the Vita which was commissioned by Queen Edith. Wilton Abbey is, I suggest, one of the locations for the Tapestry's construction. Queen Edith may even contributed to which scenes should be included and their depiction.
King Edward's Death Scene

The embroidery is stitched in strands of worsted wool, the end product of an old and complicated process. An enormous amount of wool was dyed. Carola Hicks states more than 45 kilograms was used for the embroidery. The original wools remain vivid. They are also more resistant to moth than chemically dyed wools. Winchester was one of the cities that monitored the practice of dyers within its jurisdiction since dyes produced noxious waste products and hideous odours. Alum which was valuable was the favoured mordant. Dye ingredients came from animal, vegetable or mineral products acquired locally. Sometimes ingredients were imported from further afield to be smashed, boiled, and simmered, concentrated to extract the essence of a hue.

There are ten main tones on the Tapestry. They came from only three plants, woad, madder and weld. The dyes were blended into two reds, a yellow and a beige, three tones of blue and three tones of green.


Beige and yellow came from the flowers and leaves of weld.

Green also came from weld but it was mixed with the leaves of woad.

Woad produced the blues.


The reds came from madder. The roots of madder were ground into a powder, heated and simmered with added chalk or lime at a constant temperature for not more than two hours. Once a whole fleece was dyed to the required colours, a hand held spindle was used to turn the fibres into bales of worsted.

A friend of mine, Charles Jones, has had spinners and embroiderers working on a tapestry to tell the story of The Battle of Fulford September 1066. Here are a few of the dying recipes he has used to reproduce authentically the colours which his embroiderers used. Be careful if you try them out.


Chop lengths to boil for one and a half hours
Add wool and pinch of tartar
simmer for one hour
one hank of woad dyed wool added to light green will produce dark yellow.


5lbs of walnuts smashed and put to soak for twenty four hours
Tap water and a half cup of vinegar

Soak the wool for two days and then simmer for half an hour will produce a nut brown shade

Oak Gall Powder

20 gm of oak gall powder
boil for 30 minutes
teaspoon of salt
alum mordanted wool added
cook for twenty minutes
fix with salt and vinegar

Produces a light green-brown

These are just a few of the recipes used for dying wool used in embroidering a latter-day tapestry replica. I wonder if EHFA readers have had experience of creating dyes for wool using similar methods.


Carol McGrath is the author of The Handfasted Wife (2013) published by Accent Press and inspired by The Bayeux Tapestry.

The Swan-Daughter published by Accent Press (2014) is available now from and from

Monday, November 17, 2014

Researching Historical Fiction via Interviews

By Deborah Swift

Most of last year I was working on 'Past Encounters', a novel set in 1945 and ten years later in 1955. This meant the period is on the border of slipping into memory and on the border of historical fiction as a genre. As such it meant I was able to interview people who had first hand memories of the times, although those people were often housebound or elderly.

My novel is set during the filming of Brief Encounter, the classic Engish film, which features a railway station as one of its main locations. Quite a few people who worked in and around the station were drafted in as extras for the film, and it was these people I wanted to trace and interview in order to construct a fictional lead character who might have been an extra during the filming.

Here are my tips for interviewing.

Be polite, because the person is giving up their time to help you, so offer to buy them a coffee, or if you are meeting them at home, bring a small gift of cake or biscuits or a copy of one of your other books as a gesture of thanks. Make a note of their full name and how it is spelled as you may later want to credit them, and as the interview gets going you might get too excited to ask!

Have a list of very specific questions. The first time I did an interview, I found my interviewee had so many memories that before I knew it she had begun to tell me an anecdote that happened to her father in 1971, which was interesting and took about twenty minutes in the telling, but was of course completely useless to me as material for my book.

Which reminds me, allow lots and lots of time. This is because you want the interview to progress naturally, like a conversation; otherwise it might feel like an interrogation. So although you have particular questions, you might need to steer the conversation gently that way, and the more relaxed your interviewee is, the more likely it is that they will give you the nuggets of memory which really bring the story alive. I talked to one lady whose description of when her fiancee did not come back from the war meant we both had to have the box of tissues!

I took some of my other research along, eg newspapers from 1945 and books about WWII with good photographs, and this gave a natural start to the conversation whilst we looked at the pictures together. Sometimes it was a cue for their photo album to come out, and those were great insightful conversations. Expect to drink vast quantities of tea and coffee and eat lots of biscuits and cake.

The people I interviewed were fascinated by my process as a writer, and on occasions it felt more like I was the interviewee. They will want to know when to expect your book to come out, and when they can buy it. These can be difficult questions to answer when you haven't even written the book yet. After a few months you will begin to get phone calls asking how you are getting on. (Of course by then it is still just a disastrous soup in your head, but you reassure them nevertheless.)

So one of the things to remember is that once you have interviewed someone, you then have a relationship with that person, and you can't just drop them when you have got the information you need. Expect to make lots of new friends, and particularly with older people be prepared to go back and chat with them again about how things are going with the book. I was continually humbled by what I learnt about life for my grandparent's generation.

Offer a copy of the novel when it is ready. You will probably have to do a lot of apologizing because 'their bit' is not in it, having been cut when you realized the whole thing was much too long and you couldn't include everything!

I brought out the book under the pseudonym Davina Blake because it is a much more modern book than my other historicals and a different kind of read. In the same vein as the film 'Brief Encounter', there is plenty of relationship drama but no big frocks or swashbuckling in this one! As a writer it was refreshing to have a different research process and a different period to work in. 'Past Encounters' will probably appeal to a different reader, though I hope some of the people who enjoyed my other books do give it a try.

Amazon UK

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Giveaway: Agnes Sorel: Mistress of Beauty by HRH Princess Michael of Kent

Her Highness is giving away a copy of Agnes Sorel: Mistress of Beauty to a US winner. Please comment below to enter the drawing. Be sure to leave your contact information.

You can read about the book HERE.

Sir Isaac Brock, British Commander in Upper Canada During War of 1812

by Regina Jeffers

Isaac Brock was born in St. Peter Port, Guernsey, on 6 October 1769. He was the eighth son of John Brock (1729-1777), a midshipman in the Royal Navy, and Elizabeth de Lisle, the daughter of the Lieutenant-Bailiff of Guernsey. The Brock family had settled in Guernsey in the 16th Century and were a well-respected lot. His formal education was a brief one, and Brock was known to spend much of his leisure time “boning up” on the classics and upon military tomes.

On 8 March 1785, at age 15, he purchased a commission as an ensign in the 8th Regiment of Foot, where he knew the responsibility of the regimental colors. One of his brothers (John) was also a member of the Regiment. Isaac proved himself a resourceful soldier, and he was promoted to lieutenant on 16 January 1790. By the following year, he raised his own company of soldiers and was rewarded with the rank of captain. His company was then transferred to the 49th (Hertfordshire) Regiment of Foot. (Military History)

While stationed in the Caribbean, Brock was said to have faced down a reported expert duelist by demanding that they fight at “handkerchief distance.” The duelist supposedly withdrew from the match, which solidified Brock’s reception among his men. Also during this time, Brock took ill with a high fever and nearly died.

In 1793, he returned to England to desk duty: His assignment one of recruitment on Jersey. Brock spent some four years in this post before purchasing a commission as a major and rejoining the 49th in October 1797. Luck found Brock when his commanding officer (Frederick Keppel) was forced to resign his position, and Brock was able to purchase the lieutenant colonelcy at a reduced price. (Military History)

Brock took part in many early operations: He saw action as part of the Helder Expedition against the Batvian Republic (now known as the Netherlands). He distinguished himself at the Battle of Egmont-op-Zee, where he has been struck in the throat by a musket ball(a neckcloth prevented a possible fatal injury), but had continued to rally his men to battle. This was remarkable as the 49th had been in poor shape when Brock had assumed the command. They sustained only thirty-three fatalities in the Battle of Alkmaar. He was also part of the Battle of Copenhagen, where he observed the brilliance of Lord Nelson first hand. Transferred to Canada in 1802, Brock learned much about the “disgruntled soldier.” Mutiny and dissection was common on the Canadian front. The mutinous event at Fort George had Brock scrambling to stop the mutiny before it began. The mutineers claimed Lt-Colonel Roger Hale Sheaffe had driven them to the event, but Brock showed little mercy to the culprits.

On 29 October 1805, Brock was promoted to colonel, and after a short stay in England, he returned to Canada as the temporary commander of the British army there. The strain in the relations between the British and the American forces led to the War of 1812. Grievances developed upon both sides. Among them were the idea the British had violated American sovereignty, the restriction of American trade by Britain, the American desire to annex the British North American colonies, the impressment of American sailors by the Royal Navy, the blockade of French ports, and the charge that the British were inciting the Native American tribes to attack U. S. settlements.

Brock moved quickly to bolster the Canadian border by strengthening the fortifications of Quebec. He also rearranged and strengthened the Provincial Marine, which led to the development of a naval force capable of holding the Great Lakes. These moves proved pivotal during the war. Unfortunately, he riled the civilian population by appropriating much of the available land and by forcing the civilians to work for the military.

He was made brigadier general and commander of all forces in Upper Canada in 1810. Despite his success upon the Canadian front, Brock tried for years to return to England. Permission to leave for the European front came in early 1812, but by then, Brock was too entrenched in the Canadian war threats to withdraw.

As the administrator for Upper Canada, Brock instituted a series of changes designed to protect the British interests in Canada. He amended the militia act to take advantage of available volunteers and ordered enhanced training for these raw recruits. He also sought out the assistance of First Nations leaders upon the British behalf.

On 18 June 1812, the United States declared war. The Provincial Marine’s dominance upon the lakes permitted Brock to transfer his reserves to the threatened points of combat. He assisted the outpost of St. Joseph Island on Lake Huron to attack the American outpost of Fort Mackinac. On 17 July, the British claimed a victory against the Americans. The success also convinced other First Nations leaders to join with the British against the U.S.

Brock was hampered by Governor General George Prevost, who kept the bulk of the British forces in Lower Canada to protect Quebec. Prevost opposed any attack into American territories. When William Hull attempted to invade Canada at Sandwich (later known as Windsor), Brock used the excuse to oppose Prevost’s orders. Brock moved his men to reinforce the garrison at Amherstburg, at the western end of Lake Erie, and facing Hull’s position at Detroit. Despite odds of 2 to 1, Brock laid siege to Fort Detroit. Strategically, he dressed his volunteers in the discarded uniforms of his regulars to make it appear his force was a well trained army. To frighten Hull, he had the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh lead a party of American Indians across the lake three times (doubling back each time) to make it appear the First Nations were in support of the British.

Fearing the civilian population of Fort Detroit would know the brutality of the “savages,” Hull surrendered with little effort on Brock’s part. The capture of Detroit permitted Brock the luxury of resupplying his men, as well as wounding the American morale. Brock meant to invade the U.S., but an armistice between Prevost and the American Major General Henry Dearborn waylaid his plans. The armistice provided the Americans time to regroup. It also prevented Brock from knowing from where the next attack would come.

In the early morning hours of 13 October 1812, American general Stephen Van Rensselaer led a force across the Niagara River. The Battle of Queenston Heights saw the British artillery routed by the inexperience American force. Arriving from Fort George, Brock ordered an immediate attack upon the Americans’ position. Twice during the battle, Brock had to rally the troops to press on. A large man and dressed in full officer regalia, Brock became an easy target. An American stepped from a thicket to deliver a musket ball to Brock’s chest. Supposedly, Brock uttered the Latin phrase “Surgite!” - meaning to “rise” or “push on.” The phrase is the motto of Brock University, a public research university located in St. Catharines, Ontario. The British attempted to attack again in Brock’s name. They were driven back by the Americans until Sheaffe arrived with reinforcements, turning the tide to the British’s favor.

A funeral procession for Brock from Government House to Fort George was lined with British soldiers, the colonial militia, and First Nations warriors. Over 5000 people attended the funeral. In 1824, Brock’s remains were moved to Brock’s Monument, which overlooked Queenston Heights. In 1840, the monument was bombed, reportedly by Irish-Canadian terrorist Benjamin Lett (although this was never proved). A new monument replaced the damaged one. Brock was laid to rest a third time on 13 October 1853. An inscription reads: “Upper Canada has dedicated this monument to the memory of the late Major-General Isaac Brock, K.B. provisional lieutenant-governor and commander of the forces in the province whose remains are deposited in the vault beneath. Opposing the invading enemy he fell in action near these heights on 13 October 1812, in the forty-third year of his age. Revered and lamented by the people whom he governed and deplored by the sovereign to whose services his life had been devoted.” (Commemorative Plaques and Markers: Niagara Parks)

Although not a native Canadian, Brock is regarded as one of their greatest military heroes. In September 2012, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a .99999 pure gold coin with a face value of 350 dollars to honor the bicentenary of Brock’s death. The reverse design came from a half-penny token issued in 1816 as a recognition for Brock.

In Britain, Brock is remembered with a memorial at St Paul’s Cathedral. This was paid for by the House of Commons (£1575), which also granted £200 pensions to each of his four brothers. Brock posthumously received a Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath (KB) on 10 October 1812. Unfortunately, he died at Queenston Heights before receiving news of his knighthood. The Prince Regent permitted the heraldic supporters of Brock’s knighthood to be incorporated into the arms of the Brock family descendants and on monuments raised to Brock’s memory.


Meet the Author: Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of nine Austen-inspirted novels, as well as another ten Regency era romances, including Darcy's Passions, Darcy's Temptation, The Phantom of Pemberley, The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy, A Touch of Grace, A Touch of Honor, The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, as well as the upcoming releases of Angel Comes to the Devil's Keep and The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy's Cousin. Visit her website to learn more of Regina's books and public appearances.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Fortune of a Dying Miser

by David Godson

The true-life story described in Courtoy’s Complaint occurred in early 19th century London during the period June 1817 to July 1822. It concerns a man known as John Courtoy who was born Nicolas Jacquinet in the town of Jussey, France, in the year 1729. In 1751 Nicolas, then aged twenty-two, travelled to England to settle in London. At some point on his travels he adopted the name John Courtoy. Shortly after his arrival, this was the name he used when setting up in business as a perruquier or wig-maker. Twenty years or so later John formed a relationship with a woman named Mary Ann Woolley. Mary, who was twenty years his junior, reportedly bore John five children, of which three survived; William, George and Louisa. Each child was baptised with the Courtoy name. Although John’s relationship with Mary Woolley eventually came to an end, he retained a clear affinity with his former family for many years afterwards.

Nearly fifty years after first coming to England John Courtoy, now seventy-one years of age and with the reputation for being a notorious miser, could be counted among the richest men in England. It was at this point in his life that he came to employ a housekeeper by the name of Hannah Peters. Hannah left home in 1799 to escape a drunken and often abusive father. With help from her sister Ann, she first found employment as a scullion working for Charles ‘Prince’ Boothby, a renowned rake and chronic gambler. When in 1800 under the weight of overwhelming debt Boothby committed suicide, Hannah was forced to seek alternative employment. She worked first in a tavern, then as a housekeeper for John Courtoy. She was barely twenty years of age when she took up her post in John Courtoy’s home. Within the space of six years she gave birth to three daughters; Mary, Elizabeth and Susannah. Each was baptised with the Courtoy name.

Public records reveal some interesting facts about John Courtoy, including the considerable wealth he accumulated during his lifetime. My own research in the archives of the various banks and financial institutions where he held accounts show he amassed a fortune of over £250,000, equivalent to approximately £19,000,000 in today’s money. During the two centuries following his death in 1818, the ultimate destination of this fortune has attracted a great deal of interest, not least from the present day descendants of Mary Ann Woolley. This centres on the legitimacy of his Last Will and Testament made in 1814. In 1810, having given his name to the three daughters of Hannah Peters, John Courtoy made a Will leaving the bulk of his estate to his former partner Mary Ann Woolley and her children. In 1814 a second Will was made, effectively reversing his previous bequests, with Hannah and her children now emerging as the principal beneficiaries. This caused many to question why, in the space of only four years, John Courtoy had changed his mind so dramatically.

The reason for my interest in John Courtoy’s life initially developed after learning of the marriage of Susannah Courtoy, who was Hannah Peters’s youngest daughter, to a distant relative of my family named Septimus Holmes Godson. When I learnt that prior to eloping with Septimus, Susannah had inherited a considerable fortune from John Courtoy and was destined through the terms of the Will to eventually inherit virtually all of his bequeathed estate, my attention was focussed on establishing the true extent of his wealth.

Initially with the help of Ron Courtoy, a descendant of the relationship between John Courtoy and Mary Ann Woolley, over a period of four years I was able to photograph or transcribe all of his transactions held in the archives of the Bank of England, British Library (East India Company), Barclays Bank, Manchester (Goslings) and The Royal Bank of Scotland, London (Drummonds). These transactions covered the period from the mid-1750s, until his death in 1818. Analysing these accounts I realised there was an interesting story to tell about this remarkable man, primarily concerning the various methods he used to acquire his wealth.

Although I knew of reports, claims and counter-claims, concerning the validity of his Last Will and Testament of 1814, at the time none of these conjectures engaged my direct interest or attention. My focus changed dramatically in 2010 when quite by chance I met Annette Clavaret at The National Archives in Kew, London. She was in the possession of a set of journals written by her great-great-great-grandmother Maureen Sayers, including those compiled during a short period of employment in the Courtoy household. It was not until I read Maureen’s journals containing details of her employment with the Courtoy family that I realised the rumours were possibly more well-founded than I had ever imagined. It appeared there may have been a conspiracy to supersede the Will of 1810 with the Will made in 1814 when, according to the journals, John Courtoy was in all probability suffering from a form of dementia.

A number of details about John Courtoy’s life and the destiny of his immense fortune following his death can be established from original sources held in various archives, mostly in England. In addition to these records, many of which are openly available to public scrutiny, I am able to draw on the journals written by Maureen Sayers who briefly cared for John Courtoy from the latter part of July 1817 until the end of January 1818. As a result I believe a significantly new picture of his legacy emerges.

In 1818, the year of his death, the person writing John Courtoy’s obituary would have faced a challenge of epic proportions. His acquaintances among members of the nobility, goldsmiths, merchants and businessmen of London, would have known him to be a prodigious accumulator of wealth. Those within his circle of financial friends, frequently encountered at the Bank of England, the Royal Exchange or the offices of the East India Company, would have observed a shrewd trader and wily investor. Throughout his life anecdotal evidence suggests his more casual encounters in the taverns, coffee houses or frequently among the company of the cyprian ladies of Covent Garden would have known him to be of a wholly cantankerous disposition. Anyone meeting him for the first time would observe his threadbare coat, scruffy three-cocked hat and well-worn cane, and consider him to be the epitome of Captain Queernabs.

A great deal of credit for the story about to unfold must go to Judy Jerkins from Australia whose curiosity was first aroused in 1993 and who continues to question what occurred all those years ago. Although we have corresponded for a number of years, I first had the privilege of meeting Judy in the summer of 2013, when she visited Europe to continue her quest for the truth about John Courtoy’s legacy. Nursing two beers in the Wig and Quill Pub in Salisbury, it was easy to see how Judy’s enthusiasm for unearthing the mystery behind John Courtoy’s life and death had inspired so many people around the world, not least me. We discussed not only the possible role of Hannah Peters in the emergence of the 1814 Will, but of John Courtoy’s attorney William Giles, the person ultimately responsible for drawing it up. Even today, we are still debating what occurred all those years ago.

We both agree that while William Giles emerges from the journals as a self-obsessed individual, by comparison Hannah Peters initially appears quite innocuous. Only when the reason for Hannah’s close association with William Giles is eventually revealed do we learn of her true Machiavellian nature.

The journals also have much to say about Francis Grosso and his son Robert, particularly the latter. They reveal both were close friends of Hannah Peters and how, in the most unpredictable ways, they were inexorably embroiled in the controversy that emerged following John Courtoy’s death. The role of Rowland Edward Williams, one of the Will’s Executors, is also revealed. If Maureen’s account is to be believed, he had more to lose than most if the truth behind the making of the 1814 Will were to come to light. A number of other characters also emerge, each with their part to play in the story uncovered by Maureen.

I offer no excuses for devoting a substantial part of this book to Maureen Sayers. Without her journals, I do not believe the story she unwittingly revealed would have seen the light of day. Although Judy Jerkins is unquestionably the inspiration for the book, the central facets of the story are contained in the events recorded by Maureen who died in 1868 at the age of seventy-four. During the time she helped care for John Courtoy he was living in St. Martins Street, close to Leicester Square. Throughout this period and for some years afterwards, the Courtoy name featured in her journals. The relationship she formed with John Courtoy was as much a voyage of discovery for her, as was the journey she undertook from Ireland to England.

These edited extracts from Maureen’s journals tell of her experiences during the five years after she left County Mayo to live in London in 1817. The earliest entry is dated 8th May 1817, which provides useful background information to the circumstances existing prior to her departure. It reveals that she was born the illegitimate daughter of a schoolmistress by the name of Mary Sayers, who briefly lived in London from 1793 to 1794.

In these initial entries Maureen reflects on the passing of her mother from pneumonia in the winter of 1816. This year became known as, ‘the year without a summer’. The weather was abnormally harsh with prolonged rainfall and persistently low temperatures, not only in Ireland, but across virtually the whole of the northern hemisphere. The resultant crop failures led to significant food shortages in the following winter. Maureen not only experienced the wretched misery of these depressing times first-hand, she also needed to cope with the loss of her mother. Now a twenty-three year old young woman with no immediate family, other than a stepfather of barely five years acquaintance, Maureen was required to consider her future. Like many before her she came to the decision that the time was right to secure a better life by moving to England, specifically to its capital, London.

Unlike many of those crossing the Irish Sea in the early 19th century, she was a young woman of modest independent means, and for this reason believed she could make a success of her new life. When she arrived in the capital, she first worked as a milliner’s assistant in a shop near the Haymarket. She was then employed as a helper in the Courtoy household in St. Martins Street, before setting up her own business as a milliner.

Her discoveries when she assisted in the care of John Courtoy and her observations throughout the period after she left, particularly during the later proceedings in the Court of Chancery, offer new insights into what took place all those years ago. As her story unfolds, it is clear her fascination with John Courtoy and how he accumulated his fortune was one of her abiding interests. Under the conditions existing at the time, the fact John Courtoy’s wealth was so immense was almost guaranteed to occupy an inquisitive mind. When he died, the controversial circumstances surrounding his Last Will and Testament of 1814 only served to heighten her curiosity. Although in many ways a subsidiary issue to the main story, her discovery of two hundred and sixty Louis d’Or gold coins secreted in John Courtoy’s cellar has generated a mystery regarding the hoard’s present whereabouts.

I sincerely hope the reader will enjoy this account of John Courtoy’s last days and the controversy surrounding the validity of his Last Will and Testament of 1814. You may even wish to attempt a solution to Hannah’s cryptic passage, taken from the letter she passed to Maureen, concerning the present whereabouts of his hoard of Louis d’Or gold coins.


David Godson holds a Batchelor of Arts degree in philosophy from the Open University, together with a Master of Science degree in social administration, from the University of Southampton. David has worked both in the public and private sectors in England, occupying senior positions in each area of employment. He was Assistant Chief Value Analyst for British Leyland at Longbridge in Birmingham, and later became Chief Information and Research Officer in the National Probation Service, based in Hampshire. During the last years of his working life he headed GM Associates, a criminology conference provider, contracted to the Home Office in London.

Although he has published a number of articles in the field of criminology, Courtoy's Complaint is David’s first book. He is currently researching a second book about the history of a lock-house on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal.

Since retiring, in addition to his historical research interests, David spends his time developing inventions and designs. His most recent patent application is for a modular bird-feeder. His other main interest is sponsorship of the ‘David Godson Disability Award’ for the Open University, which provides funding grants for undergraduates with disabilities.

He lives with his wife Carol on the outskirts of a quiet village in Hampshire, England, enjoying the benefits of retirement.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Richard the Lionheart’s Peacemaker

by Helena P. Schrader

Richard the Lionheart's Tomb at Fontevrault, France

In an earlier entry, I wrote about Richard the Lionheart’s successes in the Holy Land, stressing his exceptional logistical planning, his battlefield bravery and his strategic competence. Not only did he transport an army 10,000 strong across vast distances in fragile wooden ships, he kept that army supplied and fed for nearly three years in the extreme weather conditions of the Holy Land. He may have alienated his fellow commanders, notably Philip II of France and the Duke of Austria, but he won the loyalty of the common soldiers and knights by his exceptional personal bravery and his willingness to build walls or dig ditches beside them. While he led from the front, he took the disheartening decision not to take Jerusalem — despite being in sight of the Holy City — not autocratically or alone but rather in council with representatives from every contingent in his motley army.

But when it was clear that all his bravery and all the sacrifices made by his soldiers was not enough to secure Jerusalem, Richard the Lionheart found himself trapped in a dilemma. News had already reached him that his own kingdom was at risk. His younger brother John was plotting with his arch-enemy, Philip II of France, to take England and the rest of the Angevin empire away from him. He knew he had to return home as soon as possible. But to just pack up and leave as Philip of France had done before him was to risk the loss of all he had achieved in the Holy Land. After all, he had not only re-captured the vital city of Acre, he had established Christian control of the entire coastline from Antioch to Ascalon. This Christian foothold in the Holy Land was vital if there was ever to be a chance of regaining Jerusalem for Christendom. While we may look back with the wisdom of hindsight and say this was a false hope, it was nevertheless a goal that Richard I clung to passionately. He left the Holy Land vowing to return and take up the fight again.

A 19th Century depiction of Richard I Embarking for the Crusades

What Richard the Lionheart needed after the second failed attempt on Jerusalem in January 1192 was a truce — a means to end the fighting while recognizing the status quo. Only this would enable him to return to the West to defend his birthright without endangering the fragile Christian states along the Levant. He had to convince Saladin, who could not defeat Richard on the battlefield but still had the vast preponderance of forces, not to take advantage of Richard’s departure to devour (for a second time) the Christian cities along the coast of the Mediterranean.  

Saladin held all the cards. He could afford to wait until Richard with his army of crusaders departed, and then defeat the remaining Christian forces. He knew both that Richard needed to return to defend his birthright and that his army was demoralized by the failure to take Jerusalem and eager to return home. It was obvious to him that the remaining Christian forces would be in a poor position to resist him. He had little incentive to negotiate at all.

Saladin as depicted in the 20th Century Fox Film "The Kingdom of Heaven"

It was at this moment that Richard turned to a man who had once before negotiated a life-saving agreement with Saladin when in an apparently hopeless situation: Balian d’Ibelin.  Balian was a native of “Outremer” — the land beyond the sea or what we know as the Holy Land. He had been born in the small and relatively insignificant barony of Ibelin around the middle of the 12th century (the date is not recorded), the third son of the First Baron of Ibelin.  His elder brother Hugh inherited the small paternal inheritance and his other elder brother, Baldwin, inherited a much larger maternal inheritance to become Baron of Ramla, Mirabel and (at Hugh's death without children) Ibelin as well. Baldwin, however, was unable to reconcile himself to Guy de Lusignan's usurpation of the throne of Jerusalem in 1186. Baldwin chose to quit the Kingdom of Jerusalem, turning over his titles and lands to his son and naming his younger brother Balian the boy's guardian. Meanwhile, Balian had made a scandalously brilliant match, marrying none other than the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem and Byzantine Princess Maria Comnena. By this marriage he also become step-father to the youngest Princess of Jerusalem, Isabella.

With the departure of his brother, Balian was suddenly one of the most powerful barons in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and he used this power to try to reconcile the usurper, Guy de Lusignan, with the most powerful baron in the Kingdom, Raymond of Tripoli, who at that point was refusing to do homage to Guy despite the clear and present danger posed by Saladin, who had declared jihad against the Christian kingdom. His efforts were successful, and Balian and Raymond both rallied behind Guy de Lusignan when he faced Saladin’s invasion of July 1187. Unfortunately, Guy led them and the entire Christian army to a disastrous defeat on the Horns of Hattin. Balian was one of the few Christian knights to lead a successful charge against the Saracens and effect a break-out.

Thirteenth Century Manuscript Illustration of Warfare

The destruction or capture of the bulk of the Christian army, however, left the Kingdom of Jerusalem undefended and Saladin followed up his victory at Hattin by capturing one city and castle after another until, by the start of September 1187, Saladin controlled the entire Kingdom of Jerusalem except some isolated castles, the city of Tyre and the greatest prize of all: Jerusalem. In Jerusalem were concentrated somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 Christians; roughly 20,000 inhabitants and 40,000 to 80,000 refugees from the territories Saladin had just conquered. But there were no knights in Jersualem and no commander.  Saladin called a delegation from Jerusalem to Ascalon and offered to let those trapped in the city go free in exchange for the surrender of the city. The representatives of Jerusalem refused. According to Arab sources they said that Jerusalem was sacred to their faith and that they could not surrender it; they preferred martyrdom. Infuriated by their intransigence, Saladin vowed to slaughter everyone in the city if it defied him.

Among the refugees in the city of Jerusalem were Balian d’Ibelin’s wife, the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, and his four young children. Balian had no intention of letting his wife and children be slaughtered, and so he approached Saladin and requested permission and a safe-conduct to ride to Jerusalem and remove his wife and children from harm. Saladin agreed on the condition that he ride to Jerusalem unarmed and stay only one night.

A Medieval Family

Balian had not reckoned with the reaction of the residents and refugees in Jerusalem. The arrival of a battle-tested baron was seen as divine intervention, and the Patriarch of Jerusalem no less than the citizens begged Balian to take command of the defenses. The Patriarch demonstratively absolved him of his oath to Saladin. Balian felt he had no choice. He sent word to Saladin of his predicament and Saladin graciously agreed to send 50 of his own men to escort Balian’s family to the County of Tripoli (still in Christian hands), while Balian remained to defend Jerusalem against overwhelming odds.

And defend Jerusalem he did.  After conducting foraging sorties to collect supplies for the population from the surrounding Saracen-held territory, he held off assaults from Saladin’s army from September 21 – 25 so successfully that Saladin was forced to withdraw and re-deploy his army against a different sector of the wall. On September 29, however, Saladin’s sappers successfully undermined a portion of the wall and brought down a broad segment of it. Jerusalem was no longer defensible.

 The breach occured to the east of this gate, now known as the Damascus Gate, then St. Stephen's Gate.

It was now that Balian proved his talent as a diplomat. With Saracen forces pouring over the breech and into the city, their banners flying from one of the nearest towers, Balian went to Saladin to negotiate. Saladin initially scoffed: one doesn’t negotiate the surrender of a city that has already fallen, he answered dismissively, pointing to his banners on the walls of the city. But at that moment the banners were thrown down and replaced again by the banners of Jerusalem, and Balian played his trump. If the Sultan would not give him terms, he and his men would not only kill the Muslim prisoners they held along with all the inhabitants of the city: they would desecrate and destroy the temples of all religions in the city, including the Dome of the Rock and the Al Asqa Mosque. Saladin gave in.  The Christians were given 40 days to raise ransoms of 10 dinars per man, 5 per woman and 2 per child. Although an estimated 20,000 Christians were still marched off into slavery at the end of the forty days, forty to sixty thousand Christians survived as free men and women thanks to Balian’s skill as a negotiator.

Richard of England needed those skills now, but he had a problem. On his arrival in the Holy Land, Richard had backed the claims of his vassal Guy de Lusignan to the throne of Jerusalem, while Balian staunchly defended the claims of his step-daughter and her husband Conrad de Montferrat. As a result, during the first two years of Richard’s presence in the Holy Land, Balian had been persona non grata in Richard’s court. In fact, he had served as an envoy for Conrad de Montferrat to the Sultan’s court — something Richard’s entourage and chroniclers viewed as nothing short of outright treason to the Christian cause.

Richard the Lionheart, however, was neither a fool nor a bigot. Knowing that only the barons and knights of Outremer could defend the territories he had conquered after he went home, and recognizing that Guy de Lusignan would never be accepted as King by the barons and knights of the Kingdom he had led to disastrous defeat, Richard dropped his support of Lusignan and recognized Isabella and her husband and the rightful rulers of Jerusalem in April 1192. By doing so, he also opened the doors to cooperation with Balian d’Ibelin. Soon thereafter, Richard employed him as a negotiator with Saladin, and in August Balian had successfully talked Saladin into a three year truce (neither side wanted peace for both were unsatisfied with the status quo) that provided for free access to Jerusalem for unarmed Christian pilgrims. Like the surrender of Jerusalem this was not a triumph, but it was also better than what might have otherwise been expected given the weakness of the Christian position. Most of all, it gave Richard what he wanted: an opportunity to return to the West to defend his birthright without the immediate loss of his gains in the Holy Land. And indeed his legacy in the Holy Land was to last not just three but 99 years.


Helena P. Schrader is the author of numerous works of history and historical fiction.  She holds a PhD in History from the University of Hamburg.  The first book of a three-part biographical novel of Balian d’Ibelin, who defended Jerusalem against Saladin in 1187 and was later one of Richard I’s envoys to Saladin, is now available for sale.  Read more at: or follow Helena’s blogs: Schrader’s Historical Fiction and Defending the Crusader Kingdoms.

A Biographical Novel of Balian d’Ibelin
Book I

A landless knight,
                A leper King
                                And the struggle for Jerusalem.

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